Jan. 5 (UPI) — In a first, stem cell researchers can grow hair follicles in skin, an Indiana University School of Medicine report said.

The research, published this week in the medical journal Cell Reports, is the first demonstration that hair can be grown in laboratory-made skin, a difficult undertaking.

“The skin is a complex organ that has been difficult to fully recreate and maintain in culture for research purposes,” Dr. Karl Koehler, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Indiana, said in a press release. “Our study shows how to encourage hair development from lab grown mouse skin, which has been particularly troublesome for researchers to recreate in culture.”

The discovery came during development of a technique to make inner ear tissue from stem cells. The skin, with the capability of retaining hair follicles, was a byproduct of the process.

“In the developing embryo, the inner ear comes from the same layer of cells as the top layer of the skin, so it was no surprise that skin and inner ear tissue formed in tandem,” Koehler said. “We were surprised to find that the bottom layer of the skin also develops.”

Beyond developing skin with built-in hair, the study shows that if basic building blocks of skin tissue are brought together in a laboratory, the diverse cell types can self-assemble into various kinds of cells. The study’s lead author, Dr. Jiyoon Lee, said the results can serve as a blueprint for making skin from scratch, using stem cells.

“My hope is that by improving skin-in-a-dish models we can greatly diminish the sacrifice of experimental animals and ultimately help patients with skin-related issues live a better life,” Lee said.

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